Taming an overgrown plum ?

bart1(6/7 Northern VA)November 7, 2012

I have an overgrown plum tree of unknown variety that was mature when I bought the property 8 years ago. I believe it's an Asian variety and have planted a couple of other Asians near it, all of which have produced nicely.

The overgrown one needs some serious work and I've been trying to prune it into submission, but I think I've been making things worse. The pictures below show crazy suckering that's happening with it - - 90% of the growth is straight up!

What do you think I should do to try to get this into a more open vase like shape?

Should I sacrifice a season of fruit (which is fine with me because I've only gotten a couple very small plums off of it) and just do some major summer pruning?

If I remove all the suckers, what will happen to the tree? Damn near all of the leaf growth was from the suckers and not from the scaffold branches.

The photo shows what a typical scaffold looks like, but this problem continues for every branch on the tree!

Thanks!

Bart

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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

Here's a shot of the entire tree.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 10:51AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Don't take this personally but that's one ugly tree!! I'm not sure you can make a vase shaped tree out of this thing. But I'd whack off those old limbs that are below horizontal. You need newer limbs from the inner part of the tree that are trained out in the form you want.

You can't take off all of last years growth each year. That is where the fruit should be. So you need a serious pruning back into the old wood and then have a plan to keep some of the resulting regrowth to fruit.

By next spring I'd be able to walk around that tree and never take my hand off the trunk. Then I'd train some of the new growth out in a vase form. Add lots of summer pruning to hold down the number of upright watersprouts that won't be saved.

But it does depend somewhat on how tall a tree you want in a few years. The shorter you want long run the more it needs cutting back now.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 1:36PM
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alan haigh

Well I think the tree is beautiful and really has the makings to be an instant open center. Just choose the four best located main (scaffold)branches and cut rest away. On the four chosen remove most vigorous uprights but leave smaller wood or cut back larger wood to small lateral shoots if there aren't enough small shoots to keep scaffolds reasonably full. Remove wood that is bending downward and try to leave enough lateral growth that 80% of the light is intercepted when tree leafs out (I know this is not possible for you to know but you can leave extra wood and remove it once tree does leaf out).

Do not leave stubs of cut branches and cut back just enough to leave about an 8th of an inch of branch for it to heal over.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 3:19PM
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alan haigh

I'd wait till early spring to do this.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 3:20PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

I'd chop it back and graft it over, that is if it doesn't produce anything edible???

It looks a lot like my Alderman, minus all the lateral shoots.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 3:24PM
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alan haigh

Looks like there's already plenty of perfect urprights for grafting onto without excessively chopping it up. I didn't read carefully to notice about only small plums. Grafting would be a good idea- get some Satsuma wood and graft on uprights near the beginning of scaffolds and remove the wood beyond it somewhat gradually, I suggest, but keep enough outside wood to be able to tie the graft to a more horizontal position at the beginning of the second year.

I only get success grafting plums if I graft dormant wood (kept in fridge) on the tree after the tree has already leafed out. A simple splice graft works fine.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 9:32AM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

Thanks folks!

Grafting is beyond my abilities both in getting the material and doing the graft, but maybe someday.

Harvestman -
Can I wait until after it blooms to do the big pruning? The reason I ask, is it's a beautiful tree in full bloom and I'd like to enjoy the massive bloom before I remove half of the tree.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 10:25AM
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alan haigh

You can, and at no important expense to tree or crop. That tree would probably benefit with a following summer pruning after the spring one just to slow it's rank growth down a bit.

A splice graft is so easy that anyone can do it with success the first tries. Wood can be had from members of this forum.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 10:20AM
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ramble

H-Man,

How is a splice graft done? All my plum and cherry grafts fail. Would splice also do a cherry?

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 4:57PM
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alan haigh

Yes, yes. Did you google splice graft or fruit tree splice graft? You should be able to find a video of the process.

Essentially I use a piece of scion wood removed from an annual upright (sucker or actually watersprout) and use a piece with 2 or three buds on it about the same diameter as the water sprout I graft it onto. I use electric tape to hold the scion to the sprout and wrap parafilm (amleonard.com) around the part of the scion not taped to the cut water sprout.

I realize this is a lousy explanation and will do a better job if you can't find a video of the process on the internet .

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 6:41PM
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